Overcoming Speechlessness: A Poet Encounters “the horror” in Rwanda, Eastern Congo and Palestine/Israel

In 2006 Alice Walker, working with Women for Women International, visited Rwanda and the eastern Congo to witness the aftermath of the genocide in Kigali. Invited by Code Pink, an antiwar group working to end the Iraq War, Walker traveled to Palestine/Israel three years later to view the devastation on the Gaza Strip. Here is her testimony.

 Bearing witness to the depravity and cruelty, she presents the stories of the individuals who crossed her path and shared their tales of suffering and courage. Part of what has happened to human beings over the last century, she believes, is that we have been rendered speechless by unusually barbaric behavior that devalues human life. We have no words to describe what we witness. Self-imposed silence has slowed our response to the plight of those who most need us, often women and children, but also men of conscience who resist evil but are outnumbered by those around them who have fallen victim to a belief in weapons, male or ethnic dominance, and greed.

“Perhaps ordinary language cannot convey adequately the horrors of our time. Perhaps it takes a poet to reach into her own heart and into ours, to break out of silence and despair, to speak the unspeakable truth. Alice Walker, a poet who does more than write, declares, by her words and by her actions, that she will not, that we must not, let this go on. She insists, in this poetic, powerful essay, that we will reach out to one another, across all boundaries, to create a better world.”

—Howard Zinn

“Alice Walker’s Overcoming Speechlessness leaves me breathless. She shocks us with stories of the most horrifying human interactions then pulls us out of despair with the most tender stories of compassion. She weaves the far-flung nightmares of Rwanda, Congo, and Palestine with the victories of the civil rights and anti-apartheid movements. She bears witness but steps in as an activist, acknowledging that as global citizens, ‘allowing freedom to others brings freedom to ourselves.’ Read Overcoming Speechlessness to overcome despair.”

—Medea Benjamin, cofounder of CODEPINK: Women for Peace and Global Exchange

“Few books convey such a generosity of spirit, and such a commitment to the idea of sharing, in pain as in love. And even fewer express so eloquently the idea that a true peace can only be built on justice.“

—Saree Makdisi, author of Palestine Inside Out: An Everyday Occupation


Video:  Amy Goodman interviews Alice Walker
on Overcoming Speechlessness